The Rye House Plot:

Arthur Capel (or Capell, first Earl of Essex) and Algernon Sidney. Also the Englishmen Sir Thomas Armstrong, John Ayloff, Andrew Barber, Robert Blaney, William Blagg, Zachary Bourn, James Burton, Colonel Danvers of Newington, Richard and Francis Goodenough, Lord Gray, John Hambden Junior, James Holloway, Major Holms, William Hone, Joseph How, Lord Howard of Escrick, Thomas Lea, the Duke of Monmouth, John Nisbet, Edward Norton, Colonel Romzey, John Rouse, John Row, Lord Russel (or Russell), Thomas Shepard, Aaron Smith, Joseph Tyley, William Wade, Colonel Thomas Walcot and Robert West, and the Scotsmen the Earl of Argyle, William Bayley of Jerviswood, two men of the Campbell clan at Cessnock, William Carstares (or Carstairs), Sir John Cockran, Ferguson, Alexander Gordon of Earlston, Lord Melvin, Commissary Monroe, William Spence and James Stewart


- Overview of the Plot

     The Rye House Plot was motivated, in part, by religious feeling. In 1881 Charles had dissolved Parliament and so stymied an attempt to exclude his younger brother, James (who had converted to Catholicism in 1669) from acceding to the throne after his death. Anti-Catholic sentiment was strongly opposed to the accession of a Catholic king, and also to the Catholic sympathies that Charles's action appeared to reveal. This led to the Rye House attempt to assassinate Charles, though there is speculation that there never really was a plot and the whole episode was concocted by the king and the Tories to throw the Whig party into disarray. In this it succeeded admirably; two prominent Whigs, Sidney and William, Lord Russell, were executed and a third, Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, fled the country. (See here for an account of the Rye House Plot.)


- The "Official" Version of the Plot...

       A True Account and Declaration of The Horrid Conspiracy Against the Late King, His Present Majesty, and the Government: As it was Order'd to be Published by His Late Majesty. In the Savoy: Printed by Thomas Newcomb, One of His Majesties Printers; and are to be sold by Sam. Lowndes over against Exeter-Change in the Strand (1685. Folio, pp. [3]+167). Bound with Copies of the Informations and Original Papers Relating to the Proof of the Horrid Conspiracy Against the Late King, His Present Majesty, and the Government: As it was Order'd to be Published by His Late Majesty. In the Savoy: Printed by Thomas Newcomb, One of His Majesties Printers (1685. Folio, pp. 141). Very good condition in an early binding (rebacked).

       The contents of this can best be indicated by an extract:


       These pages list the alleged conspirators whose names are given at the top of this page. A large part of the text is given over to details of the exact nature of their supposed involvement in the plot, along with their capture and punishment or successful escape.

- Arthur Capel

       Hard on the heels of the execution of Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex, came the publication of his father's Contemplations, together with Pious Advice to his Son, details of which can be found here. Capel's father died in service to Charles I and, in context, this pointed reminder of Capel's father's loyalty to Charles's father appears to be an attempt to prick Charles II's conscience. If so, it was unsuccessful; Charles pursued all the alleged conspirators ruthlessly, sweeping away his main political adversaries in a vicious purge. While there clearly was a plot, in some cases - notably those which arose after the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 - there is strong evidence that the plot itself was no more than a pretext and the victims were innocent (see the following page on this site and Macaulay's history, for details).


- Algernon Sydney


      During the later part of the 17th century religion was still cause for controversy, but people were not put to death purely on the grounds of their religious beliefs. Algernon Sidney is remembered as a martyr for another kind of belief - republicanism - though that belief was grounded partly in his religious convictions (i.e., that God intended his creatures to be free, not subject to the arbitrary dominion of an earthly ruler), and the ostensible reason for his death was his alleged involvement in a plot to kill the king (Charles II).


    One of the more curious aspects of Sidney's trial - along with the fact that he was convicted on extremely shaky evidence - was an unpublished manuscript, written by him, that was brought forward as evidence. This was a work he had been writing since 1680, expounding his belief in republicanism. It was claimed that the author of such a work was clearly capable of regicide. This was quite unfair, as can be seen from the following account of an episode at the end of the Puritan Revolution:

          In January 1649 he [Sidney] was appointed - in his absence and against his wishes - as one of the Commissioners for the trial of Charles I. He approved of the deposition and trial of the king, but opposed his execution. In the event, he played no part in the proceedings, retiring to Penshurst until sentence had been passed. (Click here for quite a  good account of Sidney and his beliefs.)

Sidney's manuscript was published some fifteen years after his death.



Discourses Concerning Government, by Algernon Sidney, Son to Robert Earl of Leicester, and Ambassador from the Commonwealth of England to Charles Gustavus King of Sweden. Published from an Original Manuscript of the Author (London, 1698; fol., pp. 462 + [5]). A very good copy, in an early binding (rebacked), of the first edition of Sidney's work.